Home & Garden

A primer before you buy a new furnace

This time of year, your home heating system may be going through the occasional warm-up lap or it could be in full-blown workout mode already.

Let’s hope your system is fit for winter duty. But if you have doubts, here’s advice from top-rated HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) pros:

To assess your system, ask your HVAC contractor to provide a written efficiency analysis and summary of any recommended repairs. Your contractor can do this during an annual tune-up.

Heating systems are not one size fits all. Be wary of a contractor who offers a quote without examining your house. Ideally, a technician should perform what’s called a “Manual J calculation,” which includes square footage, window efficiency and other factors to determine the right size heating system. An incorrectly sized system will cost you money and comfort.

Buy the most efficient furnace you can afford. Efficiency – a measure of how much energy put into the furnace is converted into heating power – is described in terms of AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). The federal government requires that most types of furnaces reach a minimum 80 percent AFUE; some models can achieve 97 percent.

Natural gas is considered the most economical way to heat a home when temperatures are below freezing.

Oil or propane can be a good option where gas lines aren’t available. However, oil or propane furnaces require more storage room, run “dirtier” than natural gas and can be more expensive to operate.

Electricity can be an expensive way to fuel a furnace. Often, a heat pump is a more economical option for an all-electric house and also acts as an air conditioner. One heat pump type, called ductless mini-split, can be a good alternative for homes currently heating with electric baseboards or wall heaters.

But on very cold days, a heat pump may not perform as well as other systems. That’s why contractors typically suggest keeping your gas or oil system as a backup.

If you experience hot and cold spots in your home, or are using too much energy to keep your home at a set temperature, you may benefit from a zoned system. Zoning divides a home into areas, each controlled by a separate thermostat, and can save on utility bills, reduce wear and tear on your system, and increase indoor comfort.

The cost of a new heating system can vary widely, depending on equipment type, the home’s layout, features, labor costs and changes to existing system components.

A general price range would be $4,000 to $8,500 for a heating and air conditioning system with basic installation and features. Additional features include air purifying systems, new insulated ductwork, humidifiers and programmable thermostats.

Seek multiple bids from HVAC contractors who are appropriately licensed, insured and bonded, and who have positive consumer reviews on a trusted online site.

November through March is the busy season for heating contractors. You might get a better deal if you seek bids between April and October. Also, check with your local utility or HVAC contractor to see if you qualify for incentives or rebates.